Rarely do things go according to plan in sports.
Earlier this year, Orlando City—an expansion team in Major League Soccer—added Cyle Larin to its roster. Larin had spent two years putting shots past goalkeepers for the University of Connecticut. He was already in the fold with the Canadian national team. Despite his size and ability to score, Orlando wanted to bring him along slowly – maybe loan him to lower-league affiliate Louisville City and let him get minutes there.
That did not happen. Injuries to several other forwards left Orlando manager Adrian Heath with no choice but to start Larin.
It worked out. Larin set the MLS record for goals by a rookie, burying 17 in his first professional season.
Sometimes the slow play and the hope of development in a controlled environment are not feasible in sports. Sometimes, a player just gets thrown in the fire and needs to figure out how to put it out on his own.
Such is the case with Milan's 16-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Overall, reviews of Donnarumma's performances are positive from Milan fans. In the three games since he replaced Diego Lopez in goal, the Rossoneri have only allowed two goals and won all three matches. But many fans probably expected this to be a short stint in net. That will not be the case.
Lopez will be out indefinitely while he recovers from tendonitis. This means Donnarumma is in for the foreseeable long haul.
This concerns some Milan fans. After all, Donnarumma is 16. Milan has been tentative about throwing such young players into the fire early. Even Hachim Mastour, a soccer deity in human form, is being brought along slowly. The 17-year-old Moroccan is on loan at Malaga for two seasons.
The fear of many is Donnarumma will not get a chance to develop properly. Some see the best thing for his future being constant reps with the Primavera squad or a loan to Serie B. With Lopez out and the only other option being Christian Abbiati, such a plan is not feasible at the moment.
He has held his own to this point. One of the two goals he has allowed was a beautiful free kick from Domenico Berardi, who is a near certainty to score against Milan anyway. On the second goal, Lazio's Ricardo Kishna beat Donnarumma with a shot to the near post. Maybe Donnarumma could have done better on it, but look at the woeful defending from Mattia De Sciglio.
Donnarumma has proven to be reliable so far. The Lazio match was his busiest to date. Despite a failed punch and the goal that can easily be pegged on De Sciglio, he performed well, making three saves and punching away another ball. Overall, his defense has been playing well enough to keep the ball away from him – he has only been called on to make six saves. And since Lopez was not getting the job done, what does Milan have to lose by sticking with Donnarumma? Since his insertion into the starting lineup, Milan has climbed from 11th to sixth in the standings. The club seems to be improving. Let him do his thing.
After all—and this is not saying one is the other—Paolo Maldini was only 16 when he made his debut. He was a full-time starter when he was 17.